Tag Archives: Chicago

Real Home-Made Italian Beef Sandwiches: The Chicago Classic in Your Kitchen

I did not like eating meat as a child. So it was not hard for me to become vegetarian on my own at age 11 (nobody in my immediate family did so with me).  There were several reasons for this odd childhood decision in the 1970s.   

My mother did not like to cook, and she would admit that her skills were uninspired in this area, particularly with over-cooked meats.  While we ate meals out or had take-out frequently, I never cared for most meat in restaurants.

I also was a big animal-lover, with cats, dogs, hamsters, gerbils, and fish in our household.  Thus, I did not care for the idea of eating animals, when I was young.  I read extensively about animal rights (for example, Peter Singer’s Animal Liberation), the horrors of the meat-packing industry (e.g., Upton Sinclair’s classic, The Jungle) and some of the more  kooky 1960s health food manifestos.

George indicates Italian beef to be chop-licking good.

For about 10 years, I ate no red meat or chicken.  During some of that time, I did not touch seafood, either.  However, I suddenly reverted to omnivorous ways at a dinner party while at the University of Chicago, where the hostess did not know I was vegetarian.  She served a wonderful medium-rare steak.  I decided it would have been rude to declare my vegetarianism and thought I would give it a try. My clean plate indicated a hasty farewell to my strict vegetarianism.  Today, however, I eat relatively little red meat or even chicken and try to be sure it is ethically raised, organic, free-range, or, at least, happy.

This is all a round-about way of explaining that, while I grew up near one of the very best purveyors of Italian beef sandwiches in suburban Chicago, I think I never ate one until I was an adult.  When I discovered this classic sandwich, I became a devoted admirer of this Chicago classic.  I have tried examples, which are supposed to be the best – all over  ”Chicagoland”.   

The Italian beef sandwich is one of two Chicago originals, specialties in the culinary world and best eaten there – the deep-dish Chicago-style pizza being the other.  In the nearly 20 years I have been away from Chicago, I make a point of having Italian beef on each trip back.  

For the Italian beef’s origins, review, food holidays – and the recipe… Continue reading

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The Original Chicago-style Deep-Dish Pizza: Have Yourself a Merry Little Pizza Slice

Have you ever tried authentic Chicago pizza?  There are three varieties, in case you were wondering.  I spent my first three decades living within minutes (no more than a half-hour) of the very best pizza parlours in the Greater Metropolitan Chicagoland Area.  I sampled all the top-rated pizza places.  So I feel qualified to “splain” it all to you.

Chicago Pizza Categories

The first is a thin-crust pizza, which is often more chewy and thicker than the New York version (much more crisp and almost cracker-like in consistency); it is most similar to the original Neapolitan pizza crust but is really an American interpretation.  In my youth, I do not remember any authentic wood-burning oven pizzas, comparable to their ancestors in Naples, but today there are many restaurants offering this kind of “real” pizza.

The second is the stuffed pizza.  It has two crusts, akin to a double-crust pie, with all the filling in between. A thin layer of tomato sauce, however, usually adorns the top crust.  This pizza is less common than the one for which Chicago is best known, the deep-dish.  The stuffed pizza can be a delicacy, often made with spinach and mushrooms, or it can be leaden and off-putting disappointment, depending on its maker

I believe the stuffed pizza became popular in the 1970s, a decade not known for its restraint.  After all, wretched excess was in vogue.  Think disco! Think glittery body-clinging polyester fashion!  Think ultra-rich high-fat desserts! It was the era of chocolate decadence cake and appetizer buffets showcasing nothing but cream-cheese dips.  I remember sampling all the varieties at Arnie’s Restaurant in Chicago – chocolate-chip, cinnamon-raisin, honey-walnut, and some savoury counterparts – all cream-cheese extravaganzas.  I assure you I am not hallucinating, due to other 1970s excesses.

In Chicago, the deep-dish pizza is a World-War-II-era invention of Ike Sewell.  Mr. Sewell started Pizzeria Uno around 1943 at Rush and Ohio Streets, on the city’s near north side.  The pizza was an immediate hit.  He opened a second location, named strangely enough, Pizzeria Due, just a block away in 1955.   Both are still vibrant pizzerias.  (Mr. Sewell also introduced upscale Tex-Mex cuisine to the Midwest of the US, where it had been unknown, through his restaurant Su Casa in 1963).

For the deep-dish pizza profile and the recipe

Continue reading